11/21/2001 1:00AM



There's a red-hot battle going on in the trainers' race at Thistledown. Jerry Hollendorfer and Gary Johnson are tightly bunched, and through Monday's card Johnson has a two-winner edge, 17-15.

Hollendorfer shipped in with 35 head and is now down to 16. Twelve have been claimed and the others were sold. Johnson has haltered nine of his horses and Hollendorfer has claimed back two. Johnson has started five of the nine claimed horses and two have won. The two that were claimed back by Hollendorfer did not hit the board while going off as the odds-on choices.

Johnson is now training approximately 60 horses.

The current meeting runs through Dec. 31 and if Hollendorfer stays here till the end this race may go right down to the wire. If Johnson can pull it off he will have beaten two of the country's leading trainers in number of wins. He won the summer meeting title at Mountaineer Park and beat Dale Baird. It was the first time Baird had been beaten for a meeting title at Mountaineer since 1981.

Hollendorfer, based in northern California, came to Thistledown for one meeting in 1992 and led the standings.

- At the Ohio Racing Commission meeting last week Thistledown was awarded 187 racing dates for 2002, the same as this year. Opening day is March 29. Racing will continue through Dec. 23. In order to avoid conflict with the NFL Cleveland Browns, there will be no Sunday racing during football season.

- Racing Secretary Bill Couch said the stable area is now filled to its capacity of 1,360 horses with the addition of over 100 horses from Great Lakes Downs and 70 from Fort Erie.